Sunday, April 25, 2010


With only 3 days left before the required PSAE for Illinois high school juniors, any study of concepts should be nearing an end. Cramming probably won't be effective at this point, but preparation should continue in the form of "attitude adjustment."

I admit to being personally "test compulsive" -- a test of any kind does not pass my eyes without me wanting to "see how I can do." If you are of the same ilk, you're looking forward to the test day and will want your results as quickly as possible. You are ready. Have fun. Take the test with the expectation that you will do well.

For a majority of the population, tests are not the highlight of the day. Fear, anxiety, lack of confidence, unrealistic expectations, peer pressure, lack of sleep, poor nutrition -- each of these detractors can create an unnecessary hurdle to demonstrating your best effort on a test. Here are some suggestions for dispelling test demons so you can earn the score you really deserve.

1. Recognize your situation. If you didn't study and are taking the test "cold," admit that it wasn't particularly important to you a month ago, so why why bother to obsess about it now? Even though the result will become part of your permanent high school transcript, it's not the end of your academic options if the score doesn't support your GPA. In a later blog, we can examine ways to overcome deficiencies during the application process and college interviews.

2. Recognize your strengths. If you prepared for the test, go back through your homework and acknowledge the progress that you've made. Celebrate EVERY concept that you didn't remember a few weeks ago but are well-versed in now. Even if that particular question does not appear on the PSAE, it'll come up somewhere sooner or later and you can expect to get it right when it does. Each strategy that you've identified as effective for your personal test-taking style will add to your confidence in approaching the test as a whole.

3. Eat well on Tuesday. Get enough sleep Tuesday night. Have a good breakfast on Wednesday morning. Get up early enough that you aren't rushed on your way to school.

4. During the test,
- sit up so your brain gets enough oxygen to function properly. If you start to get fatigued, take a second or two to stretch and breath before jumping back into the questions.
- take advantage of breaks. Walk around. Grab a nutritious snack. Get back to the testing room in time to take your seat without rushing.
- use a number 2 pencil that has a "flat side" on the lead. Burnish the point so there is a broader surface for bubbling the scantron.
- bubble by starting in the center and fill in about 80% of the bubble area by circling 3 times from the center to the outside edge.
- unless you're striving for a perfect score, avoid spending too much time on a very difficult question. It might be more effective to finish each question than to correctly answer only the ones you have time to get to.
- have a default answer ready. If a question is too tough, fill in your default answer and move on to other questions that you have a better chance of answering correctly.
- let go....move on. Once you've answered a question, let it go. Don't try to remember it for later discussion. Don't get stuck on one question when there are 39 to 74 others to think about. Keep your short term memory and your working memory centers free to focus on the problem at hand. For English, Reading, and Science Reasoning, this means clearing your memory after each passage, essay, and data set. For Math, dump your memory after each problem.
- RELAX! Live in the moment. Avoid thinking about the outcome of the test and center your attention on one question at a time. You'll know you've achieved a productive test-taking attitude if time is called and you have to look around the room to reorient yourself to your surroundings.


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